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Spirit Cabinet

House-of-Justice-One-Way-Glass: you can't see in, not to the upper floors,
     where cell rows mean to prove
that here blind justice is half cured. For the sake of morale the inmates
     are permitted to see out—

the liquor store & coffee bar, haircut salon which goes by the name
     of Mondo. & thus the women
on the sidewalk lift their baby daughters up, allowing the men
     to view them from their cells.

I have seen them on my morning run—hard-faced women with beer logo t-shirts,
     stick-thin from the crystal
& the cigarettes, who on the concrete chalk missives to husbands, to boyfriends
    caught raising weed, or tending
    
chicken shack meth labs. So LOVE YOU DADDY's framed by daf 
     & hyacinth bouquets,
now in the early stages of rot. Ah, the sightings of the world beyond 
     arise with suddenness & pain.
    
Rough winds shake our offerings, unpetalled to the whirlwind, whose ears
     are indifferent to such pleas
as we may utter. Upon the death of Mother Ann Lee the Shakers were bereft,
     crying for weeks,

lamentations unending, seeking in their tremor & mortifications to raise her up,
     uncorrupted still. The planks
of the meetinghouse floor for days did tremble, circle dance unceasing
     in its bow & jerk & whirl.

Upon the floor they fell to writhing  & held forth for weeks in languages unknown,
     communing with spirits
both good  & ill, & built of cherrywood & burnished maple
     the Spirit Cabinets
    
contraptions half altar & half library carrel, in front of which believers
     would entrance themselves,
awaiting orders from beyond. To many brethren Mother Lee did show herself,
     to many others she did not.

& how, o spirits, shall I invoke you, who cannot count himself 
     among the chosen?
My writhings & keenings are interior & treated by
     appropriate prescription drugs,
     
to whom my conversion is incomplete, for some days I devote myself 
     solely to my dead
& in my error I do seek them & do wail. From the wire mesh
     I glimpse the chalkmarks,

a-flicker on a kind of slate. Here is the glyph of patchouli-smell, 
     graven on a scarf
or silken dress. & here the character for a chin nicked while shaving,
     stubble edging a dime-sized birthmark,

too tender to give over to the razor. Hieroglyphic of a bedside table, lipstick
     on a gin glass by her smokes.
My slate, my singing slate, my Spirit Cabinet,  fragrant of rosin 
     & sawdust & glue,

clairvoyant to channel the many-tongued chorus. My dead, my alphabet,
     my Mondo Morte,
my burning chalk which breaks the night, hear me & forgive me
     in my thrall & error.


By David Wojahn
Recipient of the 2008 Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize

Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press
from Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982-2004 by David Wojahn.
Copyright © 2006 by David Wojahn.

 
   
© 2006 Carole Weinstein. All rights reserved.